Maria Alexandrova is an 18-year-old student from Bulgaria, who lives with cerebral palsy. Refusing to be defined by her disability, she has become Bulgaria’s first person with cerebral palsy to try and successfully take the Cambridge Assessment in English.
Inclusion at school is the theme of Inclusion Europe’s campaign “Educate”. Here is how she fought for inclusive education.
Maria Alexandrova speaks perfect English. However, she could not take the Cambridge Advanced English test because it was not accessible to her with her physical disability. Because she moves her arms more slowly than her peers, it was more difficult for her to complete the exam in the limited time required. But Maria refused to be constrained by her cerebral palsy and asked the University of Cambridge to adapt its Advanced English examination to her needs. For 3 months, she advocated for alternative examination conditions to give her equal chance of gaining this certificate. The only difference she advocated for was for the writing module of the exam: she would be using a computer instead of a notepad.
“If you have the drive to accomplish something, there’s nothing impossible. I would have turned the world upside down just to sit that type of exam”, says Maria.
After months of advocacy, the local examining centre finally agreed to change the timing of the exam and let her use a computer. Weeks later, she successfully passed the test, becoming the first person with disabilities in Bulgaria to receive the prestigious English certificate. Her fight opened the way for other learners with physical disabilities to take the exam and to increase their chances of going to university and finding a job.
“Some people take education for granted, simply because it was given to them. But for people like me – and not just me – education is a right to be fought for”, explains Maria.
Maria regrets that the society focusses on what people with disabilities cannot do, rather than on their potential. According to her, inclusive education is not only about policies, but it is also about the small changes teachers and schools can make to create a better environment for everyone. She thinks that with a little creativity and desire to do so, we can ensure that everyone has access to education.
Watch her story:
© UNICEF/Maciek Nabrdalik
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